Monday, September 25, 2017

Yet more clergy sex scandals hit the Catholic Church

I've hoped against hope, ever since my own crisis of conscience back in 2005, to learn that the Catholic Church has taken meaningful action to clean up its Augean stables of clergy sex problems.  Tragically, that hope has been in vain.  Many new scandals have rocked the Church over the past few months.

CNS News recently reported:  "Vatican Cardinal’s Secretary Arrested for Hosting 'Cocaine Fueled' Homosexual Orgy Near St. Peter’s".  This is a particularly disturbing report, as the senior priest concerned is said to have been recently recommended for promotion to Bishop.  He also allegedly used a vehicle with Vatican diplomatic license plates to smuggle cocaine into the Vatican to fuel his orgies.  (It's not surprising that homosexuality is encountered in the Vatican, of course.  Back in 2013, Vanity Fair ran an in-depth exposĂ© about it, and a year later, a former commander of the Pope's Swiss Guard claimed that there was a "gay network" in the Vatican.)

A major sex scandal erupted last year on Guam, where a former Archbishop and many priests have been implicated in the abuse of children and teenagers.  The scandal has only grown since then.  What's more, allegations of uncanonical practices and misuse of donated funds have led to even more problems for the Guam archdiocese, making it more difficult to focus on the sex scandal and deal with it as it deserves.

A couple of weeks ago, a priest was recalled to the Vatican from that nation's embassy in Washington DC after he was alleged to have trafficked in child pornography.  One presumes that the cleric will face due process in the Vatican . . . but there's no guarantee of that, of course.  After all, some of those most responsible for the child sex abuse crisis in the US Catholic Church have found a form of sanctuary there (for example, Bernard Cardinal Law of Boston).

Internationally, sex scandals have continued to plague the Catholic Church.  The head of the Church in Scotland, Cardinal Keith O'Brian, stepped down after being exposed as an abuser - but was not defrocked.  It's been alleged that South America has become a "safe haven" for priests accused of child abuse in other countries, particularly the USA - and that's without taking into account the home-grown sex scandals afflicting Catholic churches in that continent.  Observance of celibacy in the Catholic Church in Africa is conspicuous by its absence in many areas (I can confirm this from personal observation during my travels in that continent).  The worldwide list of countries affected by sex scandals in the Catholic church, particularly child sex abuse, is simply staggering.

There may be those who think I'm anti-Catholic by publishing this information.  I'm not.  I was born and raised Catholic, and I daresay I'll never change my Catholic outlook on life.  However, as I wrote during the height of the Catholic child sex abuse scandal in the USA, my perspective changed when I was asked - no, ordered, as were all priests - to lie to our people about it.  I wrote extensively about that dilemma several years ago, and about my response to it.

Tragically, I truly and sincerely believe that most of the "establishment" of the Catholic Church - the cardinals, archbishops, bishops and administrators who run the Church - have no intention whatsoever of taking stronger action to root out immorality and sex abuse of every kind, unless and until they are forced to do so.  They see their priority as protecting themselves and the institution of the Church, instead of putting the interests of the people of God first, as they should.  They are, I believe, a perfect example of Dr. Jerry Pournelle's "Iron Law of Bureaucracy":

Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people:
  • First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.
  • Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.
The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.

In my opinion, the "Iron Law" perfectly describes the Catholic Church hierarchy today - and perfectly explains why it cannot and will not confront the problems of immorality and sex abuse among its members.  That's truly sickening - and it leaves those of us who believe, out in the cold.

Protestant evangelist Bob Mumford once defined secular humanism as "what you get when the world evangelizes the Church".  I suspect that's a very accurate description of what's happened to many of the leaders of the Catholic Church.  May God protect us from them . . . and lead them to repentance and conversion, to save their souls from the consequences of their choices.


It's not the NFL versus President Trump - it's what it means to be American

I've become very annoyed at much of the commentary this weekend concerning President Trump's call to the National Football League to fire players who protest during the playing of the national anthem.  One would think, to judge by the voluminous verbiage being spouted by so many, that this was a case of Big Brother oppressing its citizens yet again.  In one of the more balanced comments, the Wall Street Journal opined:

With the politicization of the National Football League and the national anthem, the Divided States of America are exhibiting a very unhealthy level of polarization and mistrust.

. . .

Mr. Trump has managed to unite the players and owners against him, though several owners supported him for President and donated to his inaugural. The owners were almost obliged to defend their sport, even if their complaints that Mr. Trump was “divisive” ignored the divisive acts by Mr. Kaepernick and his media allies that injected politics into football in the first place.

Americans don’t begrudge athletes their free-speech rights—see the popularity of Charles Barkley —but disrespecting the national anthem puts partisanship above a symbol of nationhood that thousands have died for. Players who chose to kneel shouldn’t be surprised that fans around the country booed them on Sunday. This is the patriotic sentiment that they are helping Mr. Trump exploit for what he no doubt thinks is his own political advantage.

American democracy was healthier when politics at the ballpark was limited to fans booing politicians who threw out the first ball—almost as a bipartisan obligation. This showed a healthy skepticism toward the political class. But now the players want to be politicians and use their fame to lecture other Americans, the parsons of the press corps want to make them moral spokesmen, and the President wants to run against the players.

The losers are the millions of Americans who would rather cheer for their teams on Sunday as a respite from work and the other divisions of American life.

There's more at the link.

The WSJ almost gets it . . . but not quite.  Perhaps, as an immigrant to this great country, I have a different perspective, one that's a little clearer.

Every nation has its symbols;  those tangible things that represent what it is and what it stands for.  The flag and the national anthem are two such things.  Every American does - or should - recognize them for what they are, understand how they became national symbols, and the rich history that they represent.  Those of us who become Americans from outside certainly do - or, at least, all those with whom I've spoken certainly do.  We adopt those symbols as our own, learning about them, answering questions about them as part of the process of becoming citizens, and learning to value them more than the symbols we've left behind elsewhere.  I think that gives us an advantage, an insight, that's perhaps denied to those who grow up with them, never having to think about them.

Those who serve their countries also adopt symbols that have particular meaning for them.  Military servicemen know that their comrades and forebears died under the flag of their country, so it has particular meaning for them in that respect.  (South Africa has had a new flag since democracy came to that country in 1994, but I still respect the older flag, the one under which I served in the armed forces, despite the fact that it's tainted by connotations of racism.  It remains the flag under which many of my friends died, and under which I was wounded.  I still wear it on my lapel, paired with the US flag.  It's an instinctive tribute, and I guess it'll be that way until I die.)

There are other, less publicly recognized symbols that service personnel and veterans will understand.  A recent example is "The Brick of the Unknown" (shown below), carried by US Marine Corps service personnel during a recent run.  It's described as "a block symbolizing the weight of those who were lost or captured, to remember their sacrifice".

You can bet the Marines who carried it, and those who saw it, understand that symbol very clearly - and if anyone had tried to dishonor that symbol, you can bet there'd have been a very strong reaction!

I think there are a great many Americans who do understand the meaning of our flag and our national anthem.  To see NFL players deliberately disrespecting that, putting identity politics over nation, is not just upsetting to us - it's flat-out disgusting.  If they do not respect the symbols of our nation, they should just get it over with and give up their citizenship.  We don't need them wasting our oxygen, consuming our resources and trashing what we hold dear.  The nation is greater than the sum of its parts.  That's why our forefathers rebelled against Britain in the first place.  That's what they fought a bloody Civil War to maintain.  The nation serves us to the extent that we serve the nation, and vice versa.  No service - no nation.  We give in order to receive - and I'm not talking about entitlement programs or handouts!  It's a two-way street.

What the protesting NFL players are doing is making it a one-way street.  They're demanding that we - that our country - give, whilst they give nothing back.  They're trampling on the symbols we hold dear because they think there are some things more important than our - note, our - nation.  In trashing those symbols, they are also trashing those of us who hold them dear.  It's no wonder that the reactions to their protests have been so strong, and so negative.

Last night I heard a friend, who's watched NFL games on TV as long as I've known him, say bluntly that from now on, he'll watch something else.  I heard another friend ask for the channel to be changed when an NFL game came on, for the same reason.  I think the players and the NFL have no idea how strong a reaction their antics have stirred up - but I think President Trump understands very well.  In publicly excoriating them for their protests, he's tapping into a deep-rooted anger and disgust running through much of the American people.  I share that anger and disgust.

I hope and pray that Americans will vote with their feet, their TV remote controls, and their wallets.  Let's bankrupt the NFL.  Maybe that will alert the (hopefully soon-to-be-impoverished) privileged players, the team owners, and all others who espouse identity politics, that they can go too far.  In this case, I think they have;  and I think President Trump is absolutely correct.  Fire their asses!


Sunday, September 24, 2017

Sunday morning music

Let's have another classical interlude.  How about Vivaldi's Concerto for Flute in G Minor, RV 435?  It's a short work, part of a set of six flute concertos, Opus 10, published in about 1728.  James Galway is the soloist.

Baroque music always relaxes me.  It's usually less flamboyant than later developments, designed to fill in the background rather than reach out and grab one by the throat and demand attention.  This is a good example.


Saturday, September 23, 2017

(NSFW) No way that was an accident!

Australians have always been noted for a robust sense of humor.  It's come to the fore again in a postal referendum on whether to legalize same-sex marriage in that country.  The Sun reports:

Around 16 million survey forms were posted to Australians across the country this week so people can have their say on legalising same-sex marriage.

But among those sent out featured unfortunate phrases - including "bumsex" and "d*ck to" - according to eagle-eyed recipients.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) ... apologised for the potentially "offensive" words and said it will issue a new form if requested.

There's more at the link.  A tip o' the hat to Australian reader Snoggeramus for alerting me to it.

If that was an "accidental" combination of letters, I'll eat my hat!


We're all going to face an "interesting" retirement

No matter how near to or far from retirement we are, the current parlous state of the US pension and retirement funding "industry" is far from comforting.  Just this week, one million Ohio state pensioners learned that their cost-of-living allowances may be cut "as a way to shore up the long-term finances of the fund".  We also saw how Illinois must contribute $130 billion - which it doesn't have - to eliminate the backlog of its state retirement fund.  We learned last month that Kentucky's state pension system is in dire straits, and may have to drastically cut benefits and payouts.

Some states are now trying to force private workers to become members of, and contribute to, state pension plans.

California just passed a law to force 7.5 million private sector workers to pay into the state retirement system. In this, the Golden State joins Illinois, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Oregon and Maryland. Of note is that these six states rank from having the 2nd to the 13th-worst unfunded pension liabilities in the nation, with Illinois’ pension debt estimated at $77,822 per household according to the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research Pension Tracker website. Minnesota is actively studying the issue; they have the 18th-highest per unfunded pension liability. New Jersey’s legislature passed a bill to expand its state retirement system to non-government workers, but Gov. Chris Christie intelligently vetoed the plan.

Why are the weakest government pension systems seeking to force private sector workers to pay into their accounts? There are four reasons: the infusion of new cash can help the balance sheets; millions of additional voters will be made more dependent on government programs; those same voters will be invested in ensuring that state-run pension systems are adequately funded; and the political appointees and politicians who oversee those retirement systems will have billions more in investment leverage to pressure corporations to bend to their progressive demands.

There's more at the link.

Pension problems aren't limited to the public sector, either.  Corporate pension plans are also underfunded to a very large extent, and private pension savings in IRA's and 401(k)'s are less than optimal, to put it mildly.

Basically, if you're depending on any pension fund - public or private - to ensure a comfortable retirement, you need to be rethinking that right now.  The odds are good to excellent, IMHO, that you're going to be disappointed.  As for those already drawing a pension, the odds are getting better all the time that their benefits will, at the very least, not keep pace with the real rate of inflation.  In many cases, those benefits may be reduced (see Kentucky, for example, as mentioned above).

I recommend reading these articles to get a better sense of what the future holds for US pensions in general.  (The last article is the most recent, and a good summary of the current situation.  Even if you don't read the others, I urge you to read that one.)

I also recommend following Pension Tsunami, for regular updates on state and government pension systems.  Remember, if those systems need funding, they get it by taxation - and that means their problems will inevitably affect each and every one of us.

I don't know that I'll ever have enough money to pay for my retirement, having initially saved for retirement in another country whose currency has almost collapsed under the weight of prolonged inflation, making it meaningless in US dollar terms;  and, after coming here, I earned a very low clergyman's salary for many years, with no private pension savings possible.  I suspect I'll be writing books as long as I can!

(Of course, it's only relatively recently that people came to expect to "retire" at all.  Right up to World War II, the expectation was that one would work as long as one was able, then rely on one's children to help out for one's few remaining years of life.  With today's much smaller families, that's not likely to work out very well . . . )


Friday, September 22, 2017

"This Is Why You Will Never Get Ahead"

That's the title of an article over at The Vulgar Curmudgeon's new blog site (and if you followed him on Blogger, you'll want to update your link to reflect his new home).  He provides a number of interesting charts, showing how prices and affordability of various assets, etc. have changed over time in comparison to income.  Here's one example - automobile prices.

When you look at the increases over the past couple of decades, and consider that real incomes have largely decreased over the same period, things become clearer.  It's even more brutal when you reflect that the "official" rate of inflation has little or nothing to do with the real rate of inflation.

Go read the whole article.  It's worth your time.


The inevitable result of penny-pinching, wrong priorities, and poor planning

I'm pleased to see the new Secretary of the Navy do some plain speaking.

The 10 deaths aboard the USS McCain last month and the seven aboard the USS Fitzgerald in June have many causes, which Spencer addressed in a Senate hearing yesterday. But the fundamental problem is a collision between a shrinking fleet, growing operational demands, and erratic funding for training and maintenance.

“When I said yesterday that the Navy has a problem and we’re going to fix it, (that means) we’re going to have to come to ... some sort of balance between supply and demand,” said Spencer. “The COCOMs (Combatant Commanders) are going to have to understand it, and the Hill is going to have to understand it.”

The Navy has been operating according to a “false math… that we couldn’t afford,” the secretary said. “We have been punching way above our weight and possibly robbing Peter to pay Paul to get our missions done, and now the bills are coming home.”

Longstanding Navy culture will have to change, Spencer said, to make it acceptable to say “no, we can’t” when an already overtasked or undertrained unit is given a new mission. “You truly have an organization, as you all well know, that is biased to action and the word ‘no’ is just not in the lexicon,” Spencer said. “We have to find a balance ... because the pure blind answer, yes, without assessing the risk is non sustainable.”

The accidents only make the problem worse by taking two ships out of circulation. The Fitzgerald will be in repairs for over a year. The McCain’s assessment is still ongoing but the damage looks to be less extensive. Repairing the two destroyers will cost an estimated $600 million, money which Spencer noted is not in the Navy budget. The service will have to ask Congress for supplemental funds, and “it’s going to have to be sooner rather than later,” Spencer said, almost certainly before the 2019 budget request in the spring.

In the medium term, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has prioritized plus-ups to readiness funding for all four services – in many cases deferring modernization. The goal is to catch up on the years of cancelled training and deferred maintenance that resulted from the 2011 Budget Control Act capping defense spending even as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq dragged on and new threats arose from China and Russia.

The long-term solution is a larger Navy. The fleet has shrunk from its 1987 high of 594 ships to 278 today, even while the number of ships deployed outside US home waters at any given time has stayed roughly constant at about 100. That means ships and sailors must deploy more often and for longer, putting more strain on humans and machines alike with less time for recovery and repair ... Unless the demand for ships drops – which is unlikely – then the supply of ships must rise.

There's more at the link.

I lay the blame equally at the doors of the politicians and the Navy's senior leadership.  Politicians wanted to have more money available for entitlement programs and other vote-getting projects, so they short-changed our armed services.  The armed services, on the other hand, wanted the latest in flashy, gee-whiz hardware and weapons (e.g. the bloated, long-delayed, unbelievably expensive F-35 program), so they short-changed other elements of their responsibilities such as maintenance, training, etc.  The result is damaged ships and dead sailors in 2017.

I worry about that in the light of the current crisis over North Korea.  Are our armed forces really ready for action there?  I guess there's only one way to find out . . . and I hope and pray that doesn't become necessary.


Carrot WHAT???

Australians have always been a resourceful, inventive people . . . but I'm not sure about this news.

Australia’s biggest carrot oversupply in 25 years has prompted farmers, along with chefs and winemakers, to get creative and use the popular vegetable in foams, consommes and infuse it in vodka.

. . .

Mr Hinrichsen put the excess in vegetables down to optimal growing conditions, big crop yields and Russia’s ban on European imports for having a domino effect on the world carrot market.

“It seems there’s been a perfect storm of events which have led to an absolutely flooded Australian carrot market,” Mr Hinrichsen said.

One solution to use up excess and “wonky” carrots unsuitable for sale was the creation of carrot vodka.

Alice Gorman and Gen Windley from Kalfresh teamed up with a winemaker to create the carrot vodka which Ms Gorman described as clean and refreshing with a hint of carrot flavour.

Restaurants have also helped farmers get through excess carrots by juicing, roasting and turning the vegetable into a foam to compliment items on their menus.

Rydges South Bank Brisbane executive assistant manager Dominic Rose said the hotel’s restaurant Bacchus were making the most of the oversupply.

“We were in the process of changing the menu and just lightening it up for spring and we put a duck dish on there and it’s a duck ravioli but it’s got a consomme that goes with it,” he said.

“When you make it you put carrots through there as it gives you that nice amber colour.

“Then the dish sort of evolved and the chef that was in the restaurant was working with it and we ended up putting a carrot foam on there and grilled carrots as well.”

There's more at the link.

I know that almost anything can be fermented and/or brewed and/or distilled into some form of alcohol, but carrot vodka?  Sounds like the Soviets won the Cold War after all!  And what's "carrot foam"?  I think of foam as something I see on top of a beer, or on the surface of the sea.  I've never eaten foam on top of my food . . . and as for a foaming (or foamed) duck, that brings to mind rabies rather than a rattling good meal!

Oh, well.  I suppose next, they'll come up with skin cream made from carrots, and claim it's healthy and good for you, because one of the ingredients is beta-carrotene.


Thursday, September 21, 2017

Almost in the weeds!

Here's a Russian Tupolev Tu-22M3 bomber making a very, very long takeoff run.  He only just got his wheels off the ground before the tarmac ran out.

You might say that's a military analog to the (in)famous Ilyushin Il-76 long takeoff run in Australia, which we've seen in these pages before.

Both are nailbiters - or, as we used to say in the military, "you'd have to pull hard to get the seat cushion loose from your pants after that!"


Yet another forecast about the end of the world . . .

. . . this time on Saturday, September 23rd - and I'm betting it'll turn out to be just as false as all the previous ones.

Seriously, why do people listen to this nonsense?  The latest claim is from someone calling himself a "Christian numerologist", who's identified a series of recent events as lining up with Biblical prophecy.  He's also rehashing the old, tired nonsense about a non-existent Planet Nibiru (which, if it were about to collide with Earth as he claims, would long since have been visible to the naked eye, never mind telescopes).

To me, the most telling give-away about all this nonsense is the source's claim to be a Christian.  If he is, his faith is no more than skin deep - because he's ignoring one of the fundamental tenets of Christian revelation (which, as a retired pastor, I take seriously, even if some of my readers may differ).  You'll find it in Matthew 24:36.

"But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only."

That says it all.  Jesus admits that not even he, the Son of God, knows the day or the hour that the end of the world will come.  Therefore, if anyone else claims that they're a Christian, and they've worked it out, and that they know more than Jesus does . . . they're saying they know more than the Son of God.  I call BS, right there.  If they claim that, they are demonstrably not Christian at all, no matter what they say!

Don't bother with anyone prophesying the end times, the Second Coming, or whatever.  We don't know when it's due, and we won't know until it happens.  Down the ages, countless people have thought they recognized the "signs of the times", and believed that the end was nigh . . . and they've all been wrong.  I see no reason to think we know any more than they did.

For Christians, the Biblical message is that we all live, every day, in our own end times.  None of us know the day or the hour of our deaths.  Yesterday, Miss D. and I were driving when someone decided to change lanes - and almost hit our car, because we were in her blind spot.  We could have died then and there, but for some rapid evasive action by Miss D.  There's no guarantee that she (or I) will always be able to react so quickly, or have room in which to do so.

Our own "end times" can come without warning - so we'd better be ready for them, and live our lives in such a way that our actions, our entire way of life, provides evidence of our faith.  That way, when the end does come for each of us, we'll be prepared to give an account of our lives before the righteous Judge of us all.  As Marcus Aurelius famously said, "Do every act of your life as if it were your last."  Words to live by . . . and to die by, when the time comes.


Sounds logical to me . . .

From Stephan Pastis and yesterday's edition of his Pearls Before Swine cartoon strip (click the image for a larger view at the strip's home page):